In the dead of winter, when hardly anyone goes anywhere, Rappahannock County is working hard to make sure that, come spring, everyone shows up here.
The Board of Supervisors Monday voted to create a Tourism Advisory Group (TAG) to help the county create and run a visitor center – which the group’s predecessor, the Tourism Partners, thinks can be funded by private donations, at least to start with.
The Washington Hospitality and Visitors Association voted last week to change its name to the Rappahannock Hospitality and Visitors Association (RHVA).
At the same time, the director of the Rappahannock Business Alliance, which publishes an annual subscription-only business directory, said he would be joining the RHVA and looked forward to cooperating with the association in promoting the county’s attractions and events.
“The town has long been the lynchpin in the local tourism industry,” said RHVA President Jay Brown, “for a variety of reasons – it’s a brand that is well-known in significant part because of the Inn at Little Washington, obviously.”
The Inn’s representative at the RHVA, Rachel Hayden, was among those who voted for the name change. The name change vote was 10-2, with Washington Town Councilman (and innkeeper) Gary Schwartz and Flint Hill antiques dealer Berni Olsen voting against the change.
“We are hoping to expand our membership, and not just geographically,” said Brown, who said not quite half the association’s current 46 members are not based in the town. “We would very much like, and have tried to recruit, agri-tourism businesses, orchards and equine-related businesses, to name a few.”
“There are many who think it’s Rappahannock County that’s the up-and-coming brand,” said Jim Offutt, who runs the Rappahannock Business Alliance. “There’s strength in numbers, and many in the past have expressed hesitance to join a Washington-based group. I think this will be a good thing.”
The Board of Supervisors action at its monthly meeting Monday to create the Tourism Advisory Group (TAG) was recommended by the Tourism Partners, a group comprised of representatives of tourism-related businesses and attractions in the county, first created as part of the initial state grant that allowed the county to hire a tourism consultant and set up a visitors’ web site in 2008.
The group has been meeting over the past several months to consider proposals for creating visitor centers in a number of proposed locations.
The TAG would eventually replace Tourism Partners, McCarthy said.
The Tourism Partners recommendations to the board said the Partners and the TAG would work cooperatively toward getting a visitors center open at Avondale – the county-owned farmhouse next to the county library — open by Memorial Day.
The Partners told the board it believes that private donations, up to perhaps $10,000, could be raised to pay for the initial visitor center operation.
“I have made it clear to the Tourism Partners, and we should do so to potential TAG members,” McCarthy said in his memo to the supervisors for Monday’s meeting, “that the revenue cupboards are bare and that any effort to operate a visitor center . . . will have to be funded by donations for all costs of operation and staffing.”
McCarthy said the county would use jail trustee labor and normal building-and-grounds fund allocations to make the improvements required to get Avondale’s first floor space open for visitors this coming year.
Visitor center operating hours proposed by the Tourism Partners would be Friday through Sunday from March through September and in early December; Thursday-Monday during October and November. Late December through February would be time for staff training, maintenance and open weekends as determined by a manager.
The three-day-a-week manager’s proposed $8 per hour pay would come from the private funds raised. Up to 12 Rappahannock County “tourism ambassadors” would be trained to serve a minimum of two four-hour shifts per month, according to county tourism consultant Laura Overstreet.
The categories for volunteer members of TAG proposed by the Tourism Partners are: history/heritage; outdoor adventure/equestrian/sports; accommodations; restaurants; wineries and distilleries; farms/orchards/farm markets; performing arts/entertainment; retails shops and galleries; artsts/artisans; and two at-large positions. The total number on the advisory group would be 11 voting positions.
The county tourism office and Shenandoah National Park would contribute permanent, non-voting advisory board members.